In case you were wondering exactly when the federal government would hit the statutory debt ceiling, the answer is: right now. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner delivered the formal notification to Congress today.
What are we going to do about it? Oh, not much, at least not right away. Geithner will fiddle with some spreadsheets, while Congress and the White House “say they’re ready to deal, but disagree over how much and what to cut,” as Fox News puts it.
Shouldn’t we have completed those discussions before we actually crashed into the debt ceiling? That’s not how it works in Washington, because all limits on the federal government’s power have become entirely theoretical. The debt ceiling is a hypothetical limit, reached after decades of the government spending billions more than it takes in. It’s not really a “ceiling” or a “limit” the way normal people use the term. Uncle Sam doesn’t start thinking about hitting the brakes until after he’s driven off the cliff.
Is there a danger our foreign creditors will decide to enforce that debt limit, by refusing to lend us any more money? You may recall the Administration ignored that warning when Standard & Poor’s issued it a few weeks ago. In fact, they tried to prevent S&P from making the warning public, because they didn’t want to be hassled about their free-spending ways. Why should they be worried what foreign investors think? After all, the United States borrows most of its deficit dollars from itself.
Why pay attention to pesky statutes, or dusty old documents scratched out with quill pens, when there are so many problems to solve? If you would empower the government to address the needs of the people, you must abandon all thought of arbitrary restraint on its power, because the needs of the people become the limits. Politicians can’t expect to win support from tomorrow’s benefit-hungry voters by declaring their allegiance to the past.
The urgent demands of the present and future outweigh any silly agreements our ancestors reached between themselves. Documents signed with ball-point pens in the 70s, 80s, or 90s carry no more weight – not even when those urgent demands come from overseas. For example, the President’s authority to commit American forces to his Libyan campaign will legally expire this week, as the 60-day limit on unilateral action granted by the War Powers Act of 1973 expires. The Libyan campaign was always a rather absurd stretch of the War Powers Act, which grants the President some time to deal with urgent threats to America or her interests before he needs to present his case to Congress and receive legal authorization for further action.
Obama has absolutely no interest in obtaining this authorization from Congress… and only a few of our Congressional representatives care at all. Last week, the New York Times ran a story about White House lawyers dreaming up some half-hearted legal justifications for ignoring Congress, just in case anyone wakes up and makes a big deal about it. One of their bright ideas was to order a temporary halt to U.S. action in Libya, because that would ”reset” the 60-day clock. A President could thus ignore Congress and use the military however he pleased indefinitely, provided he tells our forces to stand down for a couple of days every two months. Another brilliant strategy involves claiming the War Powers Act no longer applies, once the President hands off control of our military forces to foreign commanders. Congress only has something to say when American soldiers fight under American leadership, you see.
All of these maneuvers are profoundly contrary to the clear intent of the War Powers Act, which sees extended military operations as a serious commitment by the American electorate and its entire representation. Instead, the Act is another theoretical “limit” that serves no purpose, except racking up billable hours for government lawyers in White House spitballing sessions. If Congress wants to stop Obama’s Libyan adventure, their only option is to aggressively step in and defund it – a very controversial action they’re extremely unlikely to take.
As the limits on government evaporate, the limits placed upon “free” citizens multiply. ObamaCare will drop thousands of pages of new regulations on you, but its authors didn’t bother to find out if the crucial “individual mandate” was Constitutional before they passed it. You will not have access to high-powered taxpayer-financed lawyers to dream up clever ways to avoid those regulations. If you’re not one of the lucky and well-connected few to receive an ObamaCare waiver (200 more approved last month!) you will find yourself in a complex maze of absolute requirements, where you face stiff punishment for disobedience. Meanwhile, every restriction on the government’s action is either negotiable, or laughable.
In any nation, there will either be few laws against the government, or many laws against the people. The U.S. government borrowed over $100,000 in the time it took you to read that sentence… several hours after it passed the statutory “limit” on how much money it can borrow.